Thu, Jan 25, 2024 8:00 AM
Ethan Griffiths, Open Justice multimedia journalist, Wellington
KiwiRail will soon face court after an Interislander ferry lost power and issued a mayday call while near Wellington’s south coast in January last year.
Maritime New Zealand today confirmed it has filed a single charge against KiwiRail under the Health and Safety at Work Act, after an investigation into procedures around safety and maintenance.
The Kaitaki had more than 800 people on board for its 2.15pm sailing to Wellington on January 28 last year. But shortly before 5pm, the ship reported engine problems.
Only 10 minutes later it issued a mayday call after all four engines shut down amid a raging southerly. The engines automatically turned off to prevent them from overheating.
The mayday call sparked an immediate response from emergency services and the public.
Six other vessels quickly made their way to the Kaitaki, including the Aratere, police patrol vessel the Lady Elizabeth IV, two tugs, a pilot boat and a fishing boat.
Five rescue helicopters were also called and a cordon was erected at Owhiro Bay Pde near Red Rocks. One of the largest 4WD clubs in the country was called in to help, and 30 vehicles made their way to the south coast with blankets, woollen hats and hot water.
At around 7pm all four engines were restarted and the ferry safely made its way into Wellington Harbour.
“The investigation took 12 months; it involved reviewing the operator’s organisational information relevant to processes and procedures connected to safety and maintenance management, undertaking interviews and examining the Kaitaki after the incident occurred,” Maritime NZ Director Kirstie Hewlett said in a statement.
“Material was then comprehensively reviewed before the decision was made to prosecute.”
Today KiwiRail chief executive Peter Reidy said the safety of passengers and staff is always the highest priority.
“The safe and reliable operation of the Interislander service is an absolutely non-negotiable requirement for KiwiRail Board and management. Following the Kaitaki incident, we conducted a full review of all of our asset management practices, using global experts to ensure we are running the Interislander to world’s best practice standards.
“We are pleased that over the recent busy Christmas period, the Interislander ferries have operated with 100 per cent asset reliability and 91.4 per cent on-time performance. For comparison, these are levels matching even the best operators in the global aviation industry.”
Both Maritime NZ and Kiwirail said they could not comment further as the matter is before the court.